Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), Artist Who Inspires
Claude. Monet. Claude Monet. Doesn’t really matter, when people hear Claude or just Monet most everyone knows it’s Claude Monet, one of the greatest Artists of all time! Claude Monet has been a source of inspiration for thousands of Artists around the world (past and present); for me my respect for the Artist began when I first traveled to France after high school.
Growing up in farm country I never heard of Claude Monet, art in that sense wasn’t a part of my life as a child. The nearest museum was miles from where we lived and there was no internet. I first became aware of Monet and his work during trips to France in 1975 and 1983; the great European museums broaden my horizons in ways I never dreamed possible.
Monet’s work captivated me from the moment I first stood staring up at one of his larger than life masterpieces. Wow, I can still remember that feeling of being awestruck. I don’t know what captured my attention, perhaps it was the colors, subjects or maybe the distinctive look of his paintings. I don’t know, I can only recall the power and incredible pull I felt from his work.
During the 1983 trip to France we toured Monet’s house, studio and gardens in Giverny – what an incredible place! Nothing like walking the same pathways as Monet – a sense of familiarity because of his paintings, was felt. It was there that I gained an appreciation for Claude Monet, the person. From what I had read Monet was not without faults, he was a complicated individual. It seems he had many sides to his personality, he liked his privacy, wasn’t happy when not painting, and there were times that he’d sulk and go off on his own. Monet was stubborn, opinionated and at times bucked the trend of artists of his generation. He was tenacious as all heck when he worked, was a visionary and perfectionist, and constantly pushed the envelope to discover color and technique. He was a good business man, and by evidence of his gardens, was a master planner and gardener.
What follows are a few examples of what I’ve learned about Monet:
Perfectionist. It’s been written that during his later years he destroyed well over 60 paintings because he felt they weren’t good enough for the public or critics to ever see (he read what critics did to his pre-deceased artist friends work). No one knows exactly which paintings were destroyed, but it’s a sure bet that in his tirades the world probably lost a few masterpieces!
Tenacious and Discoverer. He constantly bent the “established rules” of art and challenged himself to find new technique for painting. For instance Monet sought to understand how natural light affected color; from what I have read this was one of the reasons for his 100 haystacks paintings. He studied the subtleties that light produced with color at different times of day and throughout various seasons of the year. The hay stack series shows a unique mix and blend of colors, it was this study that produced a new way to look and treat color while painting. Some called Monet, The Father of Impressionism.
Bull-Headed and Good Business Sense. An example of his strong will was when Monet got word that a developer was negotiating to buy a piece of land with poplar trees that he used in his paintings. When Monet got wind that the poplar trees would probably be cut down, he met with the land owner, negotiated a deal to purchase the land and continued on with painting his poplar tree series.
Master Gardener. Monet wanted flowers nearer to him so they would be available when he wanted to paint them. Years in the making, he was the master planner for his spectacular gardens at his home; these gardens became his pride and joy. Many people from around the world would visit him and his gardens, to this day are a must see for visitors. Monet used his gorgeous grounds as star features in many of the paintings he produced during his later years.
Monet would go to extreme measures making sure that the atmosphere around him (especially during his Giverny years) supported his work, whether it was his gardens or studios he designed and had built on his property. By the way, these structures were quite large in that they not only housed his expansive collection of paintings, but also gave him space to paint and house all his large works in process.
Here was someone who had painted for the majority of his life; it was as natural for him as it was to speak. And then, life was cruel. For Monet it was his eyes that would be taken. Throughout his life, his eyes were his guide to establishing color and form; he saw the subtleties that nature sent his way. It was during his later years that his eyes began to fail, though cataract surgery and glasses helped, the last couple of years were very difficult. Monet’s body of work during the Giverny years shows evidence of his failing eyesight. For example colors, which were once soft and controlled, became brilliant, loud and sometimes very dark; shapes and shadows became blurred during his last years. It’s apparent in his later lily pond and garden pathways paintings.
It was Monet’s memories of his gardens that became his guide for color, form and shape – perhaps these later paintings are his true masterpieces.
It’s been written that in the end Claude Monet became withdrawn, saw fewer people and became unpredictable. It seemed he gave up on life and painting, but through urging by family, artists and friends he mustered energy to paint and finished the large water-lily panels that he donated to the Musee de l’Orangerie.
It was on December 5, 1926 that Claude Monet passed away at 86 years old.
Monet the artist, is an inspiration to me.
Several books written about Claude Monet will be reviewed at a later date.